For 20+ years I have been helping Nonprofits and government agencies do reporting to funders (donors, foundations, government grant providers) and partners. I have seen a lot of processes and lack of processes for doing reporting. I am usually hired to help with a report because an organization doesn’t have the staff and/or time, is at the end of their frustration rope or realizes report development is not their strong suit. But even if an organization hires me, they still have to supply information. Following are the 3 mistakes that, from my experience, cause the most frustration and waste of time.
- Not tracking as you go. Waiting until the last minute to compile numbers puts you at risk for errors and omissions. Because this usually means you have to recreate and guestimate, it is likely you will over or underestimate your statistics. Overestimating could cause you to be non-compliant in your grant or to ruin your reputation with a funder – either could cause loss of funds. Underestimating robs you of an opportunity to show the magnitude of your efforts, which could also negatively impact future funding. In addition to increasing the likelihood of mistakes, it also takes a chunk of time, when tracking as you go takes small amounts of time along the progress path of your project.
- Not understanding what the report recipient wants. Speaking of time . . . this mistake can take a lot of time. If you have to redo reports or backtrack and gather information you didn’t know you needed, it will take a lot more time than it would have taken in the beginning to understand what the report recipient wants. A good way to look at it is, “pay me now, or pay me more later.” Also, if you don’t do reporting according to specification you risk losing the funding or partner or not getting future funding or necessary partners. Keep in mind that you are using someone else’s money, so their rules trump everything. One other important point. It is actually rude and disrespectful to not attempt to understand the needs of people you report to (Board Members, Funders, Donors, Partners or other departments) and disrespect will not win friends and funders.
- Putting it off until the last minute. Reporting usually takes more time than you think it will, no matter when you do it – just the nature of the beast. So, likely if you put report preparation off until the last minute, you will not allocate enough time. This will result in one or more of the following: an incomplete report, a poor quality report, working on the weekend and/or at night, other things suffering (including personal life) and, last but certainly not least, frustration. Often I am hired by an organization or agency to do or help with a report because someone has put it off. This works well for me because I make money. But it’s not the best situation for the organization that hires me. Sometimes it is best to hire an outside person to develop a report because: it is outside your ability or time scope, it will help to have an outside view or the funder requires it. But having to pay someone just because you put it off is not prudent use of funds.
During my time of helping organizations with reporting I have learned that the 2 most effective tools for avoiding these report development mistakes are:
- Include reporting in your plan (strategic, tactical, budget, etc.). Plan the who, what, when, where and how of you will do reporting. Include the cost in your budget whether it is for an outside source or for the time to be spent by you and/or your staff.
- Put commitments for the activities related to reporting on the calendar. This should include tracking, collecting, analyzing, writing, etc. If you put it on the calendar you are giving it the importance of meetings, fund raisers, vacations and other vital things. And once you put it on the calendar do not take it off; you can move it, but don’t remove it.